While US President Donald Trump has not yet officially conceded his election loss, approximately 10,000 Trump supporters recently gathered at One Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC for the “Million MAGA (Make America Great Again) March.” Some of the protesters came all the way from the west coast and Florida. They sang the national anthem and chanted, “Stop the steal!”
According to the Guardian, there was a group of Koreans and Korean Americans in the crowd. The Guardian wrote, “A large number of protesters had travelled cross-country to show their support for Donald Trump from as far as Los Angeles and Seattle. One group, with the banner ‘Korean Americans Support 2020 President Trump,’ said they came in from South Korea for the election and had showed up to support their man again on Saturday.”
The world must be puzzled what the Koreans and Korean Americans were doing in the rally supporting Trump. In fact, many Koreans and Korean Americans support Trump enthusiastically. In Korea, both left-wing and right-wing people support Trump for their own reasons. In the US, too, quite a few Korean Americans support Trump. In the eyes of people who are not Korean, it may be a Sphinx’s riddle, and yet there are some compelling reasons.
Korea’s left-wing politicians in the ruling Democratic Party and their supporters want Trump to stay in power because they think Trump is a good friend of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. As such, they think that there is a strong possibility that both sides can sign the peace treaty and the end-of-war declaration. If that happens, American troops will leave South Korea and so will the UN Command, which is what Korea’s left-wing politicians want. They also believe that Trump and Xi can become good friends again, once the former wins the election and the latter shows a friendly gesture to the United States. To Korea’s left-wing people, who are pro-China and pro-North Korea, Trump looks like the best bet that they may have.
Meanwhile, right-wing Koreans, who are anti-North Korea and anti-China, believe that Trump is and will continue to be tough on China, which is currently a dominant political and economic influence on the Korean Peninsula. Since they detest Communism and fear the influence of China on South Korea, they want America to contain the situation in East Asia. They also believe that Trump is tough on North Korea, which makes them feel secure from the threats of the North’s nuclear weapons. This is exactly the opposite of what left-wing Koreans believe. Ironically, however, both of them serve the same goal of supporting Trump.
Another reason for the support from conservative Koreans stems from their misunderstanding of the Democratic Party of the United States. Koreans tend to think that America’s Democratic Party is similar to South Korea’s Democratic Party, which pursues pro-China, pro-North Korea and pro-socialist revolution policies. However, the US Democratic Party is radically different from its counterpart in South Korea, despite having the same name. Although some progressive Democratic Party leaders in the US may want a socialist welfare system, the US Democratic Party’s principal idea is liberalism, of which the Korean Democratic Party profoundly disapproves. South Korea’s Democratic Party rather resembles a Socialist Party that wants a strong, centralized government that controls most sectors of public life, and is thereby likely to lead to a totalitarian society.
Not knowing the difference between the two, many Korean conservatives thus do not trust the American Democratic Party. As a result, they believe and spread conspiracy theories about the existence of a powerful deep state or that there is widespread election fraud. Most especially, the so-called Taegukki Corps, who are extreme right-wing conservatives that support ex-president Park Geun-hye, strongly support Trump.
As for the Korean Americans who support Trump and the Republican Party, there may be another reason, in addition to the above ones. Korean Americans in Los Angeles and other major cities harbor secret fears that violent minority demonstrators may plunder their stores more frequently if the Democratic Party wins the election.
Another reason is that rich and conservative Korean Americans tend to identify themselves with white Americans and thus have supported the Republican Party for a long time, even though it does not care about minorities. It is embarrassing because mainstream American society will never accept them as white Americans. Nevertheless, many Korean Americans continue to live such a fantasy.
Why Koreans and Korean Americans joined in the Million MAGA March perplexed the world, but the mystery becomes clear when we consider these widely-held beliefs about North Korea and China. North Korea is a perennial threat to South Korea and China is an imperious neighbor. Thus, South Korea needs to lean on America, which they think can protect her from the two domineering nations. Ironically, however, both the left and the right in Korea support Trump. By doing so, South Korea once again baffled the world for its shallow and superficial knowledge of America.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.